Ability Scores Between 18 and 19

ImageCouple months ago I joined a 2nd edition AD&D game run by a friend, and it is… well, it’s about as much fun as I remember 2nd ed. The people are great. The game is a dog’s breakfast here in the Year 2000. But everyone already knows how to play, so shut up and start pretending to be an elf.

I rolled up my fighter, and the dice delivered me an honest-to-God 18/00 Strength, rolled in front of three witnesses. I copied all the relevant numbers onto my character sheet and felt duly special.

Since then, I’ve been thinking over how goofy that system is. Only Strength gets an “exceptional” percentile addition, for who-knows-why (it first appeared in D&D Supplement 1: Greyhawk), but really because Strength is the king of AD&D ability scores.

I started to imagine a system where 18 in any ability score got you a percentile roll, and gave you extra abilities. Maybe an 18/00 Charisma could let the paladin just rule NPC reactions. An 18/00 Intelligence would let wizards practically walk off illusions.*

But I like that mechanical line between mortal and monstrous. In AD&D, the line falls between 18 and 19. In the Strength arena, the line is classically between humans and ogres. Ogres had 19 Strength. Humans (and demihumans) could not get above 18 without magical assistance. Then somehow, warriors crept into a gray area between 18 and 19.

That gray area is a fertile one. Rather than adapt the existing system, I’m more tempted to try to create an alternate one, losing percentile scores to maintain the purity of integers, swapping in a Storyteller/Fudge kind of trait system instead. Nothing outrageous–the usual list of adjectives that give you story-based boosts to argue over with your DM instead of strict numerical advantage (though there’s some of that too).

So here:

When you achieve an 18 in an ability score, choose a trait. Whenever you interact with something that involves the trait, you gain +2 or +10% to relevant die rolls. In roleplay, these traits are always beneficial, never detrimental.

  • Strength: brutal, mighty, two-handed sword master
  • Dexterity: scrambler, surefooted, twitchy
  • Constitution: fast metabolism, tenacious, won’t stay down
  • Intelligence: lingustic, riddle-solving, well-traveled
  • Wisdom: good humored, needs less sleep, observant, patient
  • Charisma: charming, dangerous, kind, magnetic

Or just make up your own.

Magic items can grant traits independent of ability scores. So you could have Dexterity of 9, but a magic item grants you “trap-averse”, the magical ability to sense and avoid traps.

*Hackmaster, a joke game that got promoted to real game, has every character roll percentiles for every attribute, regardless of value. You can have an 11/56 Wisdom. I’ve never played Hackmaster, but I like that someone took this to its ad absurdum conclusion.

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